Why You Need To Be Able To Read Your Audience

Being able to read an audience is often regarded as a vital skill for performers and other creative people. It’s also, however, a vital skill for those of us who aspire to lead, at least according to new research from Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a professor from the University of Michigan.

He calls such a skill emotional aperture, and he believes it’s a crucial element in our success or failure as a leader.  The authors define emotional aperture as the ability to understand and recognise the emotional experiences of a collective group of people, whether that’s a team you know well or even a larger group of employees.

It takes its name from the aperture setting on a camera, which is used to increase the depth of field, thus allowing us to focus in on a much larger group of people across a wider and extended landscape.  Emotional aperture does likewise, requiring us to adjust our focus away from the emotional experiences of one person towards a much broader composition.

The Importance of Reading a Room

Of course, the important role of emotional intelligence is something that has been well established over the years, and this study builds on much of this canon of work to establish how strong EI characteristics, such as being able to read the emotions of other people, can be applied to particular scenarios we often face in the workplace.

"Leaders don’t have the luxury of one-on-one meetings with all members of their organization, and we’ve overlooked the unique challenges and potential benefits of reading the emotional distribution of a team, unit, or a division," the authors say.

The authors tested their hypothesis across three distinct studies, with each revealing that the leader who is able to read the various nonverbal emotional cues given out by a group is perceived as being much more capable and successful by their subordinates.

A test was devised by the researchers to measure the emotional aperture of participants. It was designed to rate our abilities in reading collection emotions, before then providing feedback to help us to adjust our attempts. The method is based on the various changes in facial expression seen amongst a group of people. It’s a technique that the authors regularly use in the leadership training they supply as part of their MBA courses.

Interestingly, the study suggests that our ability to read such emotional cues on a one to one level has little baring on our ability to read emotional cues on a larger group of people.

"Many times, reasonable people in business try to hide their authentic emotional reactions to organizational events and a leader’s message," the authors reveal. "But our research shows that good leaders are able to decode these fleeting micro facial expressions people are not good at controlling and adjust accordingly.

The author has made the test used in the study available via his website, so if you’d like to see how you perform, click here.

How did you perform in the test? Let us know in the comments section below...